“The Garden of Skills” is an innovative project, aiming at associating on the same site a “Forest Garden”, in the middle of which will be set up an activity and training center in the fields of agroecology, agroforestry, handicrafts, and micro-project management.
Eswatini NGO Fundzisa Live acquired a one hectare plot of land in September 2020 in Malanti, a village located 20km away from Piggs Peak on the road to the capital, Mbabane, to set up this project, in association and with the financial support of French NGO Designing Hope.
Designing Hope has been established in Piggs Peak since 2005, where it has forged important links with the regional hospital and the support group for HIV-positive and vulnerable women, which has been structured as an NGO since 2012, as Fundzisa Live.
After having managed several community gardens in urban and peri-urban areas in 3 neighborhoods of the city, the Garden of Skills marks a turning point for the two NGOs, who are moving their activities 20 km from the city center, to Malanti, a rural community located along the busy main road that connects Piggs Peak to Mbabane. Since most of the women do not live in Piggs Peak itself, it is very easy for them to travel to Malanti, which is very well served by minibuses and shared cabs.
Recognized for their work in nearby schools, Designing Hope and Fundzisa Live were offered this land to set up a training and demonstration center for agroecological techniques. The outlets will directly benefit the community of Malanti.
Designing Hope and Fundzisa Live will still keep part of their activities in Piggs Peak, as they obtained from the hospital management the right to build a 40m2 room within its premises, next to the HIV-AIDS testing center. This office in town guarantee a permanent link with the needy patients of the hospital, as this is also used as consultation room for young patients, and as place of distribution of food aid for the most needy.
The Forest garden is a principle developed in agroforestry, consisting in associating trees, chosen for their ability to fertilize the soil, with market garden crops. The tree species are varied, chosen for the production of wood, the production of nutritious leaves for humans (Moringa), usable as forage, for fruit production, but also for their ability to fertilize the soil, reduce evaporation and allow market gardening in an optimized setting.
The land is ideal to serve as an example, as it resembles the reality of land on which rural and disadvantaged people in Eswatini live: a mountainside site, with some outcrops of rock. Any challenge met on this site can therefore easily be duplicated on small family plots in the Hlohlo region.
A 300 m2 greenhouse has been set up to develop a seedling production activity, and reproducible seeds, in particular for the gardens of the association’s partner schools located on the outskirts of Piggs Peak.
The vegetable production will also feed the baskets distributed to patients at Piggs Peak Hospital.
The Garden of Skills is not only an experimental garden, it is also a place of training and learning, in the fields of sustainable agriculture and nutrition, on the one hand, but also of craft skills, and administrative and digital knowledge on the other hand.
In order to help women acquire know-how and find outlets to support their families, a workshop, including two large rooms and a central patio, has been set up to receive training and craft activities, according to needs.
The project will allow the women to engage in local projects, such as the supply of school uniforms in order to continue the partnership with the 5 schools supported by Designing Hope. They will also be able to explore other markets, such as the making of professional outfits, in the field of health for example, by promoting the close links they have established with the hospital.
The machines will also be used for the training of new women (regular training sessions), and the implication in specific creative projects.
The activity and training center also includes a kitchen for processing garden products and learning recipes chosen for their nutritional qualities.
This kitchen can be used for cooking classes to educate visitors about eating healthy food, using vegetables from the garden.
Workshops of transformation and conservation of the garden production will be proposed, with the adequate material at disposal (dryer to preserve vegetables, canned food), which could also be shared with the community of Malanti.
The kitchen will also be used to prepare meals for women and youth in training.
Training “outside the walls” (agroecology, environmental awareness, nutrition) will be offered in the partner schools, in addition to the visits to the garden.
The investment in a vehicle, will allow to ensure a better follow-up of the projects, to program regular interventions in particular, in the schools located at 20km around Piggs Peak, supported by the NGO.
A facility aiming to ensure the care of young children of women attending the “Garden of Skills” is being designed. Initially, it will be a “drop-in day care center” offering a one-time care solution for women in training or working on the site, which could evolve into a nursery school and a preschool.
In Eswatini, there are currently few early childhood facilities, which limits women’s opportunities for empowerment and professionalization. In addition, it slows down the learning of children who do not start school until the age of 6.
They have to get used to the school environment and to the English language, which most of the time they have never used before. This early schooling will allow them to enter elementary school more easily and better prepared, thus improving their chances of academic and social success.
A housing unit has been set up for volunteers of the NGO, who wish to share their know-how on short stays. (skills in crafts, management, nutrition within the framework of “voluntourism”).
A small store with handicraft products will also be set up, with the possibility of distributing processed products from the garden. This shop could be located on the roadside, a very common practice in Eswatini, allowing to attract passing customers.
– Other possible medium-term outlets:
The valorization of the kitchen and the productions of the garden could also lead to the installation of a service of meal for the tourists taking the road of Mbabane to Piggs Peak.
Other small cottages could also be set up to develop solidarity tourism and constitute an additional resource for the self-financing of the center over time. The visitor will be able to take part in the life of the NGO according to his skills, by sharing his time with a visit of the area.
The Garden of Skills is the concept of a locally managed activity center, at the service of the community, to encourage sustainable development initiatives (agro-ecology, agro-forestry, environmental protection), training in traditional activities (sewing, small crafts) and the provision of skills in new technologies, in countries where despite poverty, most families have access to a connected smartphone.
A project supported by the Bon Marché Rive Gauche (main partner),
with additional funding from the Raja Foundation (winner of the Raja Awards 2020)
and The Ivory Foundation